Sunday, April 26, 2015

Paradigms of connectedness for sustainable food systems: food sovereignty, agroecology, permaculture, indigenous values and 'working with nature'

This is based on a presentation I did a few weeks ago at am interdisciplinary conference at Massey University, on 'Working with Nature'. The second part of it is quite similar to the last presentation I posted, because I still think it's a good idea.

Western thought is dominated by false dichotomies, perhaps none is more pervasive or absurd than the one separating human beings from ‘nature’.   Whereas ‘nature’ was once a wilderness to be tamed, the mainstream perspective has shifted to perceive it as precious, fragile and in need of our protection. This view does not allow any room for human beings to exist within nature, and yet, scientifically, it is impossible to see us in any other way. What lies at the heart of this problem is a fracture in dominant Western theory which has resulted in ontologies of violence, alienation and disconnection. These have potentiated many of humanity’s most embarrassing historical episodes of social and environmental exploitation. In order to begin to remedy these issues, interconnectedness with ‘nature’ must be recognised in terms of social, economic and environmental ecosystems. In recent years, food, an integral part of culture and daily life, has become increasingly politicised, in relation to globalising corporate capitalism as well as with local struggles for food sovereignty. This presentation draws on the indigenous Māori value of whakapapa, which can be described as the journey of things through space and time as well as three paradigms of connectedness which are relevant to food production: permaculture, agroecology and food sovereignty.  These paradigms are all examples of ‘working within nature’, rather than against it. They are all compatible with each other and overlapping. Each has been developed with careful reflection regarding the function of complex ecosystems and indigenous knowledge, and are based on ontologies of connectedness in juxtaposition to globalising capitalism’s ontology of alienation.  These theoretical strands are illuminated by ethnographic reflections from my doctoral fieldwork focussed on local food and food sovereignty in New Zealand.  I argue that genuine pathways to sustainability and resilience are only possible through agricultural models based on ecosystems and indigenous knowledge systems, and through the proliferation and support of small-scale community initiatives.

According to Plato Heraclitus and Parmenides once had an argument over a river. Parmenides said it was a static thing. Heraclitus said it was constantly changing. Parmenides won and went on to inspire dominant Western philosophers theory, particularly the philosophers who lead to the creation of modern science, such as pythagoras.

This is one way of telling a story about a rift in Western philosophy - and  of the subsequent fracturing that has allowed us to become more and more disconnected from 'nature', from our ecosystems, and from ourselves.

 Heraclitus went on to feature in motivational posters:

He also inspired the philosophical tradition followed by Hegel, Marx and Friere, among others.

This tradition is less black and white than ‘logic’, it is more holistic and tends to integrate rather than just dismiss different perspectives.

This is the tradition I was unknowingly drawn to, possibly by intuition, possibly because it reflects my upbringing and the emersion in indigenous Māori culture I experienced as a young child.

 This separation, and countless other examples of fracturing discourse has precipitated a perspective of human beings as separate to nature – culminating in gross distortions
Of our significance
Of our relationship to the world

Older ideas of Taming nature have given way to more recent notions of saving the world.

We may be incapable of seeing “nature” accurately, but “nature as separate” is a very strange concept, to begin with.

There is no word in Māori for nature as separate from humans.

There is no word for “Wilderness” in many languages.

Indigenous perspectives tend to be much more inclusive and interconnected.

The concept of “nature” as separate from “human beings" is essentially alienating and embarrassingly (ironically) unscientific

What we can be sure of is that we are facing major challenges to our survival, as a species, and this awareness could potentially lead to doing things better.

Looking out the window of a plane, have you ever noticed how much land is used for our food production?

We have shaped large chunks of this planet into our personal bread-basket. 

If we are going to start ‘working with nature’ this is a good place to focus

A critical perspective is important here…

While there is plenty to be critical of, it is also helpful to look for solutions, to find working models and inspiration.

Genuine sustainability must come from the grass-roots, upward. It must be holistic and multi-faceted.

Economic, social and environmental – genuine sustainability is synonymous with healthy interconnected ecosystems.

Agroecology comes from ecology – from the ‘natural sciences’ – it takes an ecological approach to agriculture. 

A whole-systems approach to agriculture and food systems development based on traditional knowledge, alternative agriculture, and local food system experiences.

Linking ecology, culture, economics, and society to sustain agricultural production, healthy environments, and viable food and farming communities.

Sparked in 1996 by Vía Campesina, an international peasant movement representing more than 180 international organisations advocating for peasants, migrant agricultural workers, indigenous food providers and small-scale farmers.
•Producing food for people, not for the global commodity market
•Valuing food producers
•Localising food systems
•Local control over resources
•Building skills and knowledge

•Working with Nature

Bill Mollison:
Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system.

Permaculture (permanent agriculture/culture) is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems

Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for provision of local needs.

It is a system which can be applied to anything – society/community, economics…

Local food map by Te Mauri Tau

Whaingaroa (Raglan)
•Whaingaroa is a dynamic community engaged in activities related to food sovereignty. 
•Groups and initiatives are closely interconnected. 
•Strong focus on ‘local’, ‘organic’, ‘sustainable’
•There is still a long way to go.
•Supermarket culture: a lot of food is still purchased from the town supermarkets or from Hamilton
•Not enough local food producers yet (more coming?)

•Poverty and social exclusion vs the ‘green bubble’

 Interconnectedness is key
Food sovereignty is about relationships

Gardens at Kaiwhenua Organics

What can we learn from the local food producers of Whaingaroa?
•People can lead incredibly rich lives without much material wealth
Balancing the economic, social and environmental  - and viewing them as interconnected
•Strong critiques of the corporate food system: control, ecological damage and exploitation
•People have gotten too disconnected from food: need to reconnect, Food needs to be real
•The right to have access to food…
•Food should be: local, sustainably produced, safe and abundant.
•Supporting local food producers: avoiding competition, working together
•Respecting indigenous values, learning from indigenous wisdom

•Indigenous systems have been developed alongside ecological systems – necessarily –
•We can learn a lot from ecological systems, from the indigenous knowledge systems in our local landscape

Without considering the flows and cycles of ecosystems, without considering ourselves part of them, we cannot move past sustainability as a catchword

Through understanding the interconnectedness we can repair fragmented ontologies, heal rifts and avoid environmental, social and economic exploitation.